A short story that was published in The Blue Hour magazine in December 2012.
Sno-Caps and Lake Effects
by Ray Sharp (2003)
Late lunch after a quick swim at the college. I come out of the cold into the neighborhood sandwich shop to grab a sub to eat back at my desk. There’s one customer ahead of me: short woman, forty-fiveish, dull brown hair, talking to the big, cheery blonde who works weekdays. Looks like snow.
“Think we’ll get much today?” the customer says,nodding vaguely toward the door, then squinting up at the sandwich maker.
“S’posed to,” answers the sandwich maker. “Lake effect.” She pauses from her work, absentmindedly wipes her hands at the broad hips of her green apron, brushes wisps of growing-out bangs from her cheek and tucks them behind her left ear. I’ve been coming here for almost a year and never asked her name. Call her Donna.
“Ha! Doubt it. I been walking every morning. S’been a good winter so far,” says the short woman. Faded jeans tucked into old boots. Parka patched at the elbow. Call her Liz, no, Jerrie.
Jerrie’s going on kind of loudly about a movie she saw last night. Maybe a little drunk.
“…at the Bijou. Bad movie. Well, good director and all, lots of quick action, sorta like what wazzit called? Oh, ya know, with those two people. Woody Harrelson and that girl…”
“Natural Born Killers?” I offer from over by the cold drinks. I never actually saw it.
“Yeah, it was like that, only bad.” She smiles at me like she’s a little pleased that the guy in the coat and tie has joined the conversation, and then continues. “I fell asleep. Actually, I closed my eyes when two guys were fighting. I hate it when men are fighting. They were hitting each other in the face. Blood was spraying all over. I closed my eyes and missed about half an hour and woke up and it was almost over. I hate that. Donchya hate that?”
Definitely been drinking. And it’s only one-fifteen. We’re the only three people in the shop. Jerrie’s nobody I ever met before, never even noticed her in this small town. It’s starting to snow.
“Yeah, I just saw a movie at the Bijou, too,” Donna says. “Mayonnaise, mustard, oil?”
“Salt and pepper?”
“Yeah, thanks. Whadjya see?”
“Oh, um…I can’t remember. Geez, what was it?”
A brief silence. Jerrie is coming toward the cooler. I step away to give her room.
She picks up the thread again: “And didjya notice them seats? When they made it into three theaters, how small them seats got? I mean,ya gotta hold your arms like this, ‘cause that’s all the room ya got.”
“Not like some of those places with, like, rocking chairs,” Donna says as she looks up from the cutting board. I like watching her work. Her fingers are long and thin, piano fingers. Even during the noon rush, she never seems flustered, always has everything under control.
“Oh, and I got some Dots last night!” Jerrie’s small eyes twinkle as her grin spreads wide like a crescent moon through patchy clouds.
“They were all chewy and got stuck in my teeth. Isn’t that great, you know, candy they only have at the movies?”
“Yeah, and what’s that other kind…Snowballs or something?” I chime in.
“Sno-Caps,” Donna says, and flashes me a private smile.
“Yeah, I was just thinkin’ of them, too,” Jerrie says. “Isn’t it funny that you can only get ‘em at the movies!”
“Then there’s that whole other kind of movie candy you also find in vending machines, like Raisinettes or Milk Duds,” I add, now fully engaged in the repartee. I know this because we have both kinds for 85 cents in the downstairs break room at work.
“Life is just so great, isn’t it? There’s always something new to think about,” Jerrie says.
We all nod and smile. I sneak a peek at my watch. I need to get back for the two o’clock budget meeting.
“I work at the deli counter in the IGA,” Jerrie says, as sort of an introduction. “I make 180 sandwiches a day. I’m quite the chef.”
“That’s a lot of sandwiches,” I say. “I guess I’m the only one who doesn’t make sandwiches, professionally that is.” I hope that didn’t sound condescending. I order a tuna on whole wheat, with all the veggies.
Jerrie turns and walks toward me. “What’s on the bottom of your tie,” she asks, and begins to reach for the front of my coat, then softly brushes her thumb along her fingers, like she was about to grab my tie and then pulled back at the last instant.
“Oh, nothing, just a picture of a fishing lure…and I don’t even fish,” I laugh. I pull out my tie and hold it up for her to get a better look.
“I collect vintage ties, ya know,” Jerrie tells me. “I love ‘em. Fashion accessories are great. Old purses, scarves, especially ties. Know what I mean?”
“I get mine at thrift stores. They’re twenty-five cents at Vinnie’s in Hancock, but seventy-five in Houghton,” I say. “What’s up with that?”
“I know, I saw a great tie the other day, a classic Seventies wide tie with paisleys, but it had a big grease stain on it.” Jerrie grabs a quart of Budweiser and heads for the register.
“Be with ya in a minute, Hun, just gonna finish this,” Donna says.
“’Sokay, today’s my day off,” Jerrie replies. “Goin’ to a friend’s house for lunch. Beer and a sandwich. It’s gonna be a great day. Ya know, a hug would feel good right now. He’s a stranger…he’ll give me one,” and with that, Jerrie puts the beer on the counter, strides over to me, short arms outstretched, head tilted slightly to my left. I take the last step forward and bend down toward her, put my arms out tentatively, and our bodies meet in front of the sliced turkey breast. The sweet smell of beer breath and the feeling of hair against my face pull me to a faraway time and place. Self-conscious now, I glance over her left shoulder toward the window, but no one’s there. Then Jerrie turns, pays, and walks out.
By this time, my sandwich is done. I grab some pretzels and a Diet Pepsi and put them next to the cash register.
After I pay, I pull out a folded-up flyer for a credit card company.
“Look at this,” I say to Donna, “They pay you two dollars for every referral you make, and two dollars for every one those people make, right on down the line. It says here that if you refer ten new people, and they each refer ten, and so on for ten levels, you can earn twenty billion dollars. Only problem I see is there’s not ten billion people on Earth, and I’m probably not even getting in on this at the top of the pyramid.”
“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Donna chuckles. “And I’ve never even had a credit card.”
“Really, a business owner like you?”
“Well, I’m not the owner, just the manager.”
“Oh, I always figured you were the owner.”
“No, the owner mostly works weekends.”
“Was he in here last week, helping you at lunch time?”
“No, that was probably my husband. Just taking orders and working the register?”
“I guess so. I didn’t really notice.”
After that there isn’t much else to say. On the way out I pause to wish her a Merry Christmas.
“We’re closing tomorrow, you know?” Donna says, in a voice that suddenly seems too small, like it’s coming from far away.
“That’s good, everyone should get Christmas Eve off.”
“No, Bellucci’s is closing for good, going out of business after 29 years. I thought you might have heard.” Donna frowns and looks away. “I guess with all the new chains opening up, and with what it costs to heat this old place, well, anyway, this is my last day.”
“Have you tried to get a job at Subway or Cousins?” I say, as she dabs at her eyes with brown paper towel. “I’m sure they’d want to hire you.”
“Oh, I wouldn’t do that, it wouldn’t feel right. The Belluccis are like family to me,” Donna says, turning back to face me.“Besides, I work weekends at Cinema 5 out at the mall. That will have to see me through ‘til something better comes along.”
“I guess you really do know your Sno-Caps,” I blurt without thinking, a dumb line if I’ve ever heard one. We both smile.
“Well, hey, take care and have a good holiday,” I say as I head for the door. “I have to get back to work now.” What I don’t say is“while I still have a job to go back to.”
Outside, it’s really coming down now, big, wet flakes, each one beautiful and perfectly unlike every other. I hesitate in the doorway, then turn to face the stinging northwest wind. You only feel pain where the tender skin is exposed, and only until you’re numb from so long out in the cold.
Dear God, I hope it doesn’t come to that.